While deer-vehicle crashes can occur at any time of the year in Kansas, the chance for such collisions rises dramatically in the fall, when the animals are on the move.
Ron Kaufman, a spokesman for the Kansas department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said mating season and the quest for more secure habitat are among reasons for increases in deer-vehicle collisions.
"Typically, the greatest number of deer-vehicle crashes are in mid-November, when the rut, or mating season, peaks," Kaufman said. "In addition to the rut, deer are also on the move in mid-fall seeking new food sources and shelter as crops are harvested and leaves fall from trees and shrubs, leaving them less secure than in their summer habitats."
According to the Kansas Department of Transportation, the peak day for deer-vehicle crashes in Kansas is around Nov. 4.Levi Jaster, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Big Game coordinator, said an abundance of rainfall this year also could play a role in deer-vehicle collisions.
"Wet weather this year may cause some deer to cross roads in new places," Jaster said, "and the additional vegetation growth could make deer harder to see until they are in the road. The approaching breeding season increases deer movement, and the cooler weather, along with young deer dispersing to find new home ranges, mean more deer may be crossing the roads."
According to the Kansas Department of Transportation, nearly one in six crashes reported across the state in 2018 involved a deer.
KDOT officials said 10,734 of the 64,933 vehicle crashes — or 16.5 percent — in 2018 were deer-related. The number includes crashes in which a deer and vehicle actually collided or the presence of a deer was a contributing factor.
“In addition to potentially causing human injuries and loss of life, deer collisions often cause significant vehicle damage that can lead to large expenses for the vehicle owner if not properly insured,” said AAA Kansas spokesman Shawn Steward. “Of the animal strikes reported by AAA Insurance policy holders during the five year period between 2014 and 2018, the average cost per claim was nearly $4,300.”
The highest number of crashes typically occur in more highly populated areas, where there are the most vehicles. Sedgwick County, home to Wichita, had 418 deer-vehicle crashes reported in 2018, the most of any county. Butler County, just north of Sedgwick County and home to El Dorado, followed with 384 reported deer-vehicle crashes.
Shawnee County had 296 reports of deer-vehicle crashes in 2018. Other counties in northeast Kansas area reported the following number of vehicle-deer collisions in 2018: Johnson — 361; Douglas — 288; Lyon — 219; Riley — 218; Coffey — 163; Pottawatomie — 158; Geary — 145; Dickinson — 135; Franklin — 128; Jefferson — 128; Jackson — 116; Marshall — 111; Osage — 103; Wabaunsee — 101; Clay — 82; Nemaha — 78; and Doniphan — 31.
The Kansas Highway Patrol cautions drivers to refrain from making exaggerated maneuvers to avoid a deer in the road, which could cause a bad situation become even worse.
“If you are unfortunate enough to have a deer enter the highway in front of your car, it is best to hit the animal and not swerve to avoid it,” said the Kansas Highway Patrol Lt. Adam Winters. “Often, we find more serious crashes occur when you swerve to miss the deer, potentially losing control of your vehicle, leaving the road or veering into oncoming traffic.”
Agencies recommend the following tips to help motorists avoid crashes with deer:
• Be especially watchful at dawn and dusk, when deer are more active.
• If you see one deer, watch for others, as they seldom travel alone.
• Reduce speed and be alert near wooded areas or green spaces, such as parks and golf courses, and near water sources such as streams and ponds.
• Deer-crossing signs show areas where high numbers of vehicle-deer crashes have occurred in the past. Heed these warnings.
• Use bright lights when there is no oncoming traffic and scan the road ahead of you to watch for deer.
• Don’t swerve to avoid hitting a deer — the most serious crashes sometimes occur when motorists swerve and collide with another vehicle or run off the road and hit an obstacle.
• Always wear a seat belt and use the appropriately fitted child safety seats. They are your best defense should you be involved in a crash.
• Honk your horn with one long blast. A long blast on your horn may frighten large animals such as deer away from your vehicle. The Insurance Information Institute advises against relying on devices such as deer whistles and reflectors, which have not been proven to reduce collisions with animals.
If you do strike a deer, here are some additional tips:
• Slow down, move your vehicle to the shoulder if possible, and call for law enforcement. KHP dispatch can be reached at *47, Kansas Turnpike at *KTA, and local law enforcement at 911. Make sure you tell the dispatcher if the animal or your vehicle is still in the road.
• If you hit a deer or other animal, do not attempt to remove the animal. Law enforcement officers can remove the animal from the road when they arrive. Don’t go near a wounded animal. A frightened and wounded animal can be unpredictable.
• Turn on your hazard lights and remain buckled up inside your vehicle. You are more protected this way, should a secondary crash occur.
• If you must be outside your vehicle, make sure it is as far off the road as possible, and do not stand between your vehicle and another one. Keep children buckled and in car seats in the vehicle. Be vigilant and watch traffic to ensure they aren’t getting close to you.
• Anyone involved in a vehicle-deer crash resulting in personal injury or property damage that totals $1,000 or more is required to report the crash immediately to the nearest law enforcement agency. Failure to report any traffic crash is a misdemeanor and may result in suspension of driving privileges.
• A salvage tag is required to remove a deer carcass, or any part of the carcass, from the crash site. Tags can be issued by KHP troopers, sheriff’s deputies or Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism game wardens.